Chef Tal Ronnen has heard it a million times: “I could totally be a vegan, except for cheese.” He can sympathize: for too long, many commercial nut-based cheeses have been gritty, strongly nut-flavored, and not particularly reminiscent of anything like an oozy brie or a stinky blue. He’s out to change that.
In his partnership with Whole Foods, Ronnen is working with Jean Prevot, formerly a cheesemaker with Laura Chenel Chevre, to create a line of plant-based cheeses under the brand name Kite Hill, all made with fresh almond and macadamia nut milks. Unable to find suitably pure almond milk produced commercially, Ronnen and his partners sampled 27 different almond varietals before selecting one grown in the San Joaquin Valley to grind and triple-filter into silky white almond milk. At their Bay Area facility, they incubate their own cheese cultures and age their products, which include the world’s first plant-based Camembert style cheese called White Alder (F&W editors went bananas over it), Costanoa (a semi-soft cheese crusted with paprika and fennel pollen) and Cassucio (a soft cheese reminiscent of fresh mozzarella). We adored their newest product, a chive, dill and truffle soft cheese.